Monday, October 31, 2011


Here is how stupid taxes can be. It is estimated that more 750 million pumpkins are carved into jack o' lanterns each October. While the practice brings joy to many, it created heartburn for Iowa tax officials four years ago, who were dismayed that so many people were decorating their pumpkins.

You see, Iowa (like most states) taxes retail sales but exempts groceries. Pumpkins used for decoration should have been taxed but were slipping by because they were also food. So they spent taxpayer’s money sending out a bulletin to retailers reminding them to quiz customers on whether they were buying the pumpkin to eat (not taxable) or decorate (taxable):

Pumpkins: Pies and jack-o'-lanterns
The Department recently refined its position on whether pumpkins are subject to Iowa sales tax to more closely match what we believe to be their predominant use.

In the past, pumpkins were exempt from sales tax as a food (edible squash), even if they were to be later made into jack-o'-lanterns or used as decorations.

Our position now is that pumpkins are taxable if:
1. They are advertised to be used as jack-o'-lanterns/decorations, or
2. It is understood that they will be used as jack-o'-lanterns/decorations

Pumpkins are exempt in the following circumstances:
* The buyer completes a sales tax exemption certificate stating they will be used as food, or
* The pumpkins are a specific variety used to make pumpkin pies and are advertised in that way, or
* They are purchased with Food Stamps.

Retailers who sell pumpkins should keep these guidelines in mind and make any necessary changes to their tax treatment of pumpkin sales.
Fortunately this got picked up by the media and then the blogosphere,, which led to local news coverage, and finally Iowa officials rescinded the pumpkin tax a few days later. One less silly tax.